In June of 1941 the biggest pogrom in Romanian history occurred. It was not the usual frenzy of drunken rioting but came as cold and calculated murder. The ruling Nazi authorities in the town of Yassy said, "Every Jewish male must come to the town square to receive a work permit."
Mina Iancu's 21-year-old uncle was in the square when Nazi machine guns slaughtered the men as they lined up for their permits. Iancu, the deputy director of the Department of the Righteous Gentiles at Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, Israel, was almost not born because of that day. Her father stood at the door of his home and told his wife he must leave to go get the work permit. "I have a bad feeling about it; you don't go!" she told him. As he tried to leave, she beat him and struggled with him and by actual physical force kept him from leaving to keep his appointment with death.The next four years were spent in terror and in hardship. Mina was born in October of 1943. The family was in hiding in a basement, and Iancu says, "I was crying a lot and others told my parents, `You must kill this child or we will all be discovered.' "
But the Iancus survived Romanian, German and Russian persecution. Israel beckoned as a sanctuary, and the young girl who was threatened with death because she cried became a teacher for the Organization for Rehabilitation through Training schools in Jerusalem.
In 1978 Iancu didn't teach because Israel was locked in state-wide teachers strike. She went to the Holocaust Museum at Yad Vashem to look up some information about Romanian relatives. But something else happened. Iancu saw the story of the "righteous Gentiles" - the non-Jews who risked their lives to save European Jewry. "This was a light! I was seeing exactly opposite of what I heard about the Holocaust. I just couldn't believe that all the world was against us," Iancu said during an interview. She spoke at Utah State University Thursday and the University of Utah on Friday as part of Holocaust Memorial Week.
There was a position open for deputy director of the Department of Righteous Gentiles. "Do you speak any languages?" they asked Iancu. She spoke Romanian, French, Italian, English, Spanish and Hebrew. Iancu went to work documenting cases of righteous Gentiles, and when the strike was over she tried for a year to teach and work at Yad Vashem. "Finally I decided there are enough good teachers. I like people and I think people like me. I get to work with special people. I am really happy to be doing this," she said.
Yad Vashem receives letters from survivors telling about righteous Gentiles who saved them. "There are 9,000 of them now - not many considering the 6 million Jews that no one saved," Iancu reflected.
Iancu's department prepares documentation through oral interviews and presents the file for approval. Once approved, a medal and a certificate are prepared. If the righteous Gentile is able to travel to Israel for the planting of a tree on the Avenue of the Righteous at Yad Vashem, often the survivor will pay for the trip.
Because funding at Yad Vashem is so limited, Iancu is sponsored on her trips abroad and uses her holidays to instruct and inform about the Holocaust. "This is the noblest of subjects - that Jews and Christians can join together. This is the generation that must not forget," she emphasized.